Life is full of experiences, interactions, and unexpected moments that shape who we are and how we perceive the world around us. Nothing is quite as transformative as traveling to an unfamiliar place to learn wisdom from cultures and people outside of our own circles. Traveling changes you; it should change you. And for nine of our people, a recent trip to Poland did just that.
The beauty of Poland
On June 8, CHG, in partnership with Amizade — a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism, encouraging collaboration, and improving cultural awareness around the world — took a group of our people and their guests on an eight-day volunteer trip to Krakow and Oswiecim, Poland.
The group began their trip in Krakow, the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River, Krakow is a vibrant, modern city that wears its medieval finery proudly. The maze of cobblestone streets, UNESCO-acclaimed old town with its expansive market square, and towering Wawel Castle on the hill tell the story of its prosperous, regal past. Yet, despite its grandeur and charm, one thing is undeniable — this place has known sadness and destruction, the worst the world has ever known. Krakow sits in the shadow of Auschwitz.
“I was in awe of how beautiful Poland is,” shares Gayle Parker, director of accounts receivable on our financial management team. “When you first walk around Krakow, you’re struck by the outstanding architecture and bustling public spaces. But you’re also aware of the scars that were left behind. It’s so important to see the whole picture.”
From heartache to hope
The group provided hands-on services that focused on historical preservation on the grounds of the former concentration and death camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. These two sites have been converted to centers for learning, mourning, and remembrance. While at the Auschwitz I Museum, half of the group assisted with landscape maintenance, which included trimming hedges, raking and collecting leaves, and pulling weeds, while the other half supported artifact preservation efforts inside the museum.
Kevan Panitz, manager on the pediatric subspecialties team at our Weatherby Healthcare division, recounts his experience at the museum, “The gravity of the situation was heavy. I had relatives who lost their lives in those camps, so being at the actual site, walking in the footsteps of thousands, and doing my part to help preserve history was so impactful and deeply life changing.”
“We provided services in two ways,” says Cindy Backus, director of client services and housing at Weatherby Healthcare. “The more straightforward service was accomplished doing the manual work at the museum, but there is also an important educational and awareness component there that we took home with us. We had the opportunity to meet a survivor and hear her stories about fleeing her home, leaving everything and everyone she knew behind in order to survive. It was heart wrenching and powerful. In a small way, we assisted in helping to keep these stories alive.”
Regarding historical events, much of what we learn is filtered through a single lens, limiting the boundaries of our understanding. But history isn’t just a set of hard facts and dates. There’s multidimensionality and a fundamental human element that can’t be ignored. When we have the opportunity to see things from different cultural perspectives, we can appreciate the nuances of history. Firsthand testimonies of the holocaust bridge multicultural and multigenerational gaps, inspiring empathy and a commitment to keeping those memories alive.
While in Oswiecim, the group had an opportunity to view Marian Kolodziej’s exhibit titled “Images from Memory: Labyrinths” at the St. Maximilian Kolbe Center, which is adjacent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Kolodziej spent several years of his life as a prisoner in Auschwitz until he was liberated in 1945. For half a century, he didn’t speak of the haunting experiences in those camps. But, later in life, as a form of therapy, he began drawing detailed illustrations of his memories.
“To see the depictions of what haunted Marian Kolodziej throughout his life allowed me to better understand his internal struggles that continued long after the war,” says Amy Green, provider representative from our Global Medical Staffing division. “Although he buried those memories for 50 years, there were stories that needed to be told. Following this experience, I have reevaluated my actions and the importance of being a voice for human rights and change.”
Finding hope in the shadow of tragedy isn’t easy. But a renewed vitality has emerged in the Kazimierz district, which was home to a thriving Jewish community before it was systematically destroyed under Nazi occupation. It’s a light many hoped to see. During their visit to Kazimierz, the group was able to witness Semitic tradition in the Tempel and Remuh synagogues, tour Oskar Schindler’s factory and the Galicia Jewish Museum, which commemorate the lost lives of Jewish people in the area, and explore Podgorze, the former Jewish ghetto. Before leaving Poland, the group experienced a Shabbat dinner at the Jewish Community Center.
A key tenet of CHG’s purpose is making a difference in our communities. These volunteer trips are motivated and defined by an increase in cross-cultural awareness, a shift in perspective, and the advancement of sustainable, developmental projects. Our people who traveled to Poland returned home to implement the knowledge and experiences they gained, ultimately forming a deeper communion with the world around them.
“I feel such a profound sense of joy and pride to work for a company that cares so much about humanity,” says Liz Marshall, project manager for our CompHealth division. “CHG goes beyond just telling our people to give back. They actually provide opportunities for us to get involved, expand our worldview, and grow as people. Together, we’re all making an impact in this world.”